Ian is a bank teller by day, but he spends his time off scouring antique stores looking for needlepoints for his eccentric friend, Ellen. It’s a good partnership. Ellen gets to maintain the fiction that she actually creates all these admittedly ugly works herself; Ian gets paid in hard-to-come-by items like ramps or blueberry lemon marmalade. During his most recent acquisition, Ian gets clobbered by an attractive man named Gabe. But good looks do nothing for Gabe’s sneering reaction to not-so-fine art. Ian is happy to guide the man to another antique shop elsewhere in town, but it seems fate has other plans. When Ian later goes out for dinner at a nearby bar, he soon finds himself sharing company with none other than Gabe himself.
Gabe is far more charming the second time around. He’s lost the sneer and Ian can understand not everyone appreciates the clashing colors of Ellen’s preferred needlepoints. One thing leads to another and soon, Ian and Gabe are sharing an intense night of passion. They have only known each other for a hot minute, but Gabe knows exactly how to drive Ian wild. For the first time in a long time, Ian is glad for some overnight company…hell, he even wants to make Gabe breakfast in the morning. But that little dream gets dashed when Ian wakes up to find Gabe gone. What’s more, the eyesore of a needlepoint is gone, too. Frustrated at being played a fool, he calls Ellen to break the news. Except she somehow manages to talk Ian into searching for Gabe. Ian never thought that would actually work, but it doesn’t take long before their paths cross again. And not a moment too soon as Gabe ends up saving Ian from being run over. From there, it’s a whirlwind twenty four hours where Ian gets closer to and feels more for Gabe than he ever thought possible. With Ellen’s help, Ian and Gabe work furiously to unravel the mystery message contained in the needlepoints. One that could leave Gabe very wealthy indeed…if a killer doesn’t get to them first.
On Pins and Needlepoints is a mystery/thriller romance from author Gareth Vaughn. In addition to the tempting get-together storyline between Ian and Gabe, there is also a pretty exciting scavenger-hunt style mystery wrapped up in ugly needlepoints that needs to get solved. I thought the pacing of the book was on the zippy side, but Vaughn makes it work pretty well. For one thing, Ian’s friend Ellen is an armchair sleuth who remotely encourages Ian and eventually Gabe to fully dedicate their weekend to deciphering and following the needlepoint clues. Ellen’s eccentricity makes her an ideal character for pushing the plot and any other threads, since nothing seems too far-fetched for a free spirit like her. Gabe’s dangerous cousin also appears early on, which helps add urgency to Ian’s and Gabe’s actions. They are motivated to work together despite some rough patches as Ian and Gabe get to know each other. Of course, there’s the bragging rights of solving the mystery, but also the promise of riches that keeps everyone moving along. Another important aspect of the pacing is how often Ian flip-flops — and that he acknowledges his mercurial feelings — between being wildly attracted to Gabe and being wildly annoyed by him. All told, it made for a fun, fast-paced story that always had a couple threads getting pulled to the fore.
Ian is our main character and I just really enjoyed his voice. He is the first-person narrator and feels very relatable. Incredulous to his own mercurial feelings towards Gabe, a bit of an introvert, a bit shy meeting new people, but able to grab what he wants. We get introduced to him at the moment he finds the kind of needlepoint his friend Ellen loves to collect. Despite initially finding Gabe as somewhat rude and off-putting, when they randomly end up having dinner at the same pub, Ian decides to give him a chance. I particularly enjoyed the tone these two take when communicating during intimacy. That is to say, I feel like they used words to explain what they did or did not want, to encourage, or to draw limits, rather than a lot of interpretive moans and dirty talk. It felt like a new take on a sex scene to me, which I liked.
The dynamic between Ian and Gabe was really interesting. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed Ian’s reactions to Gabe. He is attracted to the man physically, but is more mercurial about Gabe as a person. This was well captured through Ian’s narration and dialogue. It was harder for me to get a clear bead on Gabe, partly because he’s not the narrator and partly because he’s dealing with a lot of emotions. The whole needlepoint drama revolves around a recently deceased family member. I think this surface-deep understanding of Gabe and not going into more detail about Ian’s past are my only real critiques of the book. Clearly, both Gabe and Ian have backstories that are shaped by hardship. Ian seems to have had a rather poor relationship in the past (no abuse mentioned, but lightly alluded to) and it seems like Gabe missed out on making a connection with the one family member who might have understood him. Yet these aspects of Ian and Gabe are just barely touched on and I would have loved to see them connect a bit over these revelations.
Overall, though, On Pins and Needlepoints was a terrific read. I enjoyed Ian and Gabe as characters and how they interacted with each other. The hot-then-cold nature of working with a stranger to whom you are also attracted was just well done. The big mystery of the book was fun to follow along. I tried to solve the mystery with them, which kept me furiously flipping pages when they finally discovered the treasure. If you like mystery or thriller stories, slice-of-life characters (with quirky hobbies), meddling side characters, a touch of danger, or stories starring trans people but that don’t focus on the trans-ness, then I think you’ll enjoy this book.